WE can do better in giving thanks this Thanksgiving. There has never been a better time to live than now. All the good of the past is, in an important sense, present to be appreciated: Mankind builds on what has been learned. Children today get about and experience more in a few short years than their grandparents did in an entire youth. Their children can hope to be even more advantaged. We can be grateful, then, that society continually progresses. In large part, the stresses and commotion of the times - economic, social, and political - are but the wake of progress moving forward.
At the same time, we can be grateful for the spiritual values of life - integrity, beauty, affection - which do not ebb or gain but exist forever at their apex.
Do we feel more grudging this Thanksgiving than grateful? Are we removed, in time or space, from friends, family? Has the year been tough? Do we feel disgust at the national leadership's inability to agree on budget policy? Are we unhappy about strife in Central America, the apparent drop in our nest egg's worth along with the stock market decline?
To follow this line of thinking may be to give too much weight to our own activity as the source of our achievement. Are we perhaps trying too hard to bring into our experience that which, instead, really comes to us as a gift? A lesson of hard times is that human objectives and striving are no substitute for recognizing the impersonal influx of good in our lives.
A friend the other day shared with us something he'd learned at a communications laboratory. A breakthrough in equipment had been made when the scientists thought to concentrate on improving the receiver - making it more sensitive to a more refined set of signals - instead of simply trying to increase the power of the transmitter. Greater accuracy of reception was achieved using far less energy.
So often we human beings attempt to barge through all the static and opposition of personal and world affairs by upping the megawattage. We get angry, anxious, upset. We try to use personal influence. We threaten lawsuits. We march, filibuster, plot, harangue.
How can little old, modest, gentle gratitude get through all this? No wonder we don't feel grateful.
We need to refine our receivers.
The first settlers had every reason to sink into depression after their first winter. So many had died. Not Dan Rather and the evening news but a few Indians helped them sort out the seeding and harvest demands of the New World. Beyond the fringe of the Atlantic Eastern shore lay a land of forests, rivers, and plains that they could not yet even imagine.
In the midst of this wretched, threatening beginning the Pilgrims of the first New England colony paused to give thanks.
Their minds were free. They could worship here as their consciences led. A new democracy, a great world power, would be built on their impulsion toward liberty. They could not have known that.
Neither do we know what lies ahead for America and the human race.
Whatever the winter of our past year, we can do better at giving thanks now, and receive the good at hand.